Jun 112015

Andrew Bernstein


Bob Metz and I interview Dr. Andrew Bernstein on episode 404 of Just Right.
Dr. Bernstein holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Graduate School of the City University of New York. He has taught Philosophy at the State University of New York at Purchase, Marist College, Hunter College, and the State University of New York at New Paltz. He is an Author, speaker for the Ayn Rand Institute, and an advocate for Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.

Oct 272011

Libertarian AnarcyIn 1986, Peter Schwartz, of The Intellectual Activist and Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Ayn Rand Institute, wrote an analysis of Libertarianism called Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty.  In it he takes apart the philosophy of Libertarianism and lays it bare. What is left is a failed movement of the left, not unlike the Occupy Wall Street protests in its chaotic makeup and distorted messages.

Just as the Occupy Wall Street movement has attracted people from all political persuasion, but primary from the left, so too the “big tent” of Libertarian movement has attracted a diverse group of people, often from competing philosophical camps.

The term Libertarian was first coined in 1857 by anarcho-communist, Joseph Déjacque.  Its intellectual leaders in more modern times were people like the libertarian-socialist or anarcho-syndicalist, Noam Chomsky, and the anarchist, Murray Rothbard.  Rothbard actually thought of himself as an anarcho-capitalist which is of course an oxymoronic term.

The writings of Ayn Rand, Frédéric Bastiat, and Ludwig von Mises have also influenced the modern development of the Libertarian movement but it has been the method of libertarians to pick and choose what they like in the writings of these people and reject anything that may suggest any moral instruction.

Ayn Rand was not a libertarian.  She was an advocate for capitalism.  Libertarians are anti-state while Rand was pro-freedom.  Rand saw authority, properly defined and constrained, to be a necessary and proper element in any free society while libertarians consider any authority to be a necessary evil, but evil just the same.

To quote Rand:

“…I disapprove of, disagree with, and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called “hippies of the right,” who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism.  Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either.  Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement where it belongs.” (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

Harry Binswanger, the Objectivist philosopher and associate of Ayn Rand had this to say of Libertarians:

“In the philosophical battle for a free society, the one crucial connection to be upheld is that between capitalism and reason.  The religious conservatives are seeking to tie capitalism to mysticism; the “libertarians” are tying capitalism to the whim-worshiping subjectivism and chaos of anarchy.  To cooperate with either group is to betray capitalism, reason, and one’s own future.” (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

Libertarians have accepted many tenets of Rand’s political philosophy but have rejected her metaphysics, epistemology, but most of all her ethics.  Anyone who would suggest a system of morality to a libertarian is thought of as being authoritarian and of imposing a subjective set of standards of behaviour on them.  They would ask ‘who are you to decide what is the right or wrong way for a person to act?’  Or, ‘How can you say for certain what is moral?’  The Libertarian would laud Rand for her advocacy of capitalism, her politics, but they accept it only as a concrete; a system of economics and politics devoid of the fundament from which it arose.

This strikes to the heart of the fault with libertarianism.  A libertarian is unable to properly defend capitalism, or even liberty for that matter, except in concrete and pragmatic terms.  Their arguments defending capitalism are economic, such as having ‘sound money based on gold would prevent run-away inflation’ or pragmatic, ‘more people benefit from capitalism than from communism.’

Freedom and capitalism to a libertarian exist outside of any other philosophic context or framework.  Yet it is this framework which precedes and supports the concepts of freedom and capitalism.  If you refuse to understand the necessary philosophic pre-conditions for capitalism then you cannot properly defend it.  Capitalism becomes just another system like any other ‘ism.’  It will be thought of as just as valid as any other political or economic system and will fall – as it is doing – due to ignorance of its moral, epistemological and metaphysical roots.

Rand spent much of her life defending the philosophic foundation of capitalism.  It is an integral part of a complete philosophy which extols man as a heroic being not some hippie living in a commune where ‘anything goes’ as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.  Liberty, to Rand, was a necessary condition if man was, not only to survive, but to rise to a limitless potential.

Liberty is something to be defended vigorously but it must be done properly.  Liberty without a philosophic context will fall to anyone with a pragmatic excuse for abolishing it.  Capitalism stands on a solid ethical foundation and to reject the foundation is to reject capitalism.   Libertarians reject the foundation and therefore reject capitalism and are therefore enemies of liberty not advocates for it.

The tragic result of modern libertarian political parties today is that they attract true advocates of capitalism.  These individuals are reaching out, often in desperation, to any political movement they think will promote freedom and capitalism.  Unfortunately, these kinds of libertarians, the pro-freedom and not simply anti-state libertarians are not actually libertarians at all and their passion for freedom is being swallowed up by a collective of irrational leftists.

Consider the inhabitants of the big tent which is libertarianism:

  • The anarchists promoting a stateless society.
  • The geo-libertarians who believe that land is an asset held in common and anyone claiming any land to be private must pay a rent to the commons for the benefit of restricting entry to others.
  • The left-libertarians or the libertarian-socialists who oppose capitalism and wage labour.
  • And the right-libertarians who claim to support capitalism but only as an economic system not as an integrated political ideal in a greater philosophy.
  • There is also a small faction of angst ridden nihilists, who claim that morality doesn’t exist.  The youth of today might call them ‘emos’.

Such a large group of competing ideologies are held together by one underlying common agreement, hatred of authority.

Such a collective is no place for an advocate of freedom or capitalism.  Those that stay don’t stay for long.  They soon find that while they may share a common belief that we are over-governed that is where the commonality ends.

To these people I would suggest channeling your energy into promoting freedom, not tearing down government for the sake of it.

(Originally aired on Just Right #223, October 27, 2011.)

Aug 182011

London RiotsBy now we are all familiar with the England riots of a few weeks ago.  By now we are all familiar with all the reasons given to explain the violence, the poor education system, single parenting, lack of father figures, lack of political leadership, ineffective policing, racial tensions, multiculturalism, football hooliganism, Facebook, twitter, cell phones, violent  music lyrics, the poor economy, youth unemployment, lack of religion, lack of values, lack of empathy, or my favorite…hoodies.  All of these and many more reasons have one thing in common which, with rare exception, is going unmentioned.  What many of these have in common is a philosophy, the philosophy of altruism, the philosophy of selflessness, the philosophy of despair, the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant.

For every human action there must be an underlying philosophy of the person taking the action.  The decision to stay in bed or to get out of bed is based on your philosophy.  Whether you are able to explicitly articulate your philosophy or not does not negate the fact that you have a philosophy.  The vast majority of us are unable to properly define their philosophy or even have the vaguest notion that they even have one.

Whether you are happy in your work or home life or miserable is based on your philosophy.  Whether or not you vote or do not vote and who you vote for is based on your philosophy.  And whether or not you participate in a riot or stay at home and lock your doors while the world goes to hell in a hand cart is also a consequence of your philosophy.

I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and I can still remember political pundits arguing over the cause of youth crime, in the major American cities of New York, in Detroit, in Los Angeles.  Canadian major cities had much less but given time and the deliberate attempt by our socialist governments we can now say we have fully cosmopolitan cities which can rival the world’s greatest cities, at least in crime and rioting.

The philosophy of altruism and of sacrifice is drummed into our heads from the day we are born.  Are parents tell us to share our toys with our siblings even though they are our toys and we don’t want to.  Our teachers tell us of the evils of capitalism and materialism and of how we should conserve and deprive ourselves or the pleasures of convenience lest we destroy the environment.  Our priests and mullahs preach that we must be good Samaritans and give to the poor or we are being immoral and selfish and will go to hell for our greed.  Our politicians tell us to cut back, conserve, and pay more in taxes so that starving Somalians can eat or so that your neighbour can have that chemotherapy to remove that tumor on her nose from getting too much sun while she was in Mexico.

Everywhere we turn, from our music our newspapers, schools, churches, television programs and political commercials we are told to give, give and give until we are left a hollow shell so that others can benefit.

And the reciprocal side of this we have the recipients of our forced generosity.  We have children growing up knowing full well that they don’t have to work in order to survive.  They will be given free subsidized housing, free abortions should they get pregnant, free baby bonuses should they decide to keep the children they bear, free education, free medical care, free food, free welfare payments and when they are ready to retire from such a tough life, free pension and Old Age Security payments.

The incentive to work is driven out of us from two fronts.  Should you choose to work you are taxed, regulated and controlled at a rates and extents that makes you wonder why you should get out of bed in the morning.  If you don’t have a job you wonder why you should even look for one since the state will provide you with all you need to survive quite comfortably in a style our grandparents would only think is luxury.

What these disincentives to work do for the self-esteem of a person strikes at the root of the violence we have seen perpetrated by mobs of youth around the world.  Our nature as humans, as rational beings dictates that in order to survive we must work productively.  Left to nature alone we will die.  The fruit will not fall off the tree into our open mouths, the trees will not fall and arrange themselves into shelters to keep out the cold on their own, sheep will not sheer themselves and knit sweaters for us to wear.  We must conform nature to fit us.  We must engage in productive work using the only tool nature provides us, a rational mind.  We have to create, build, cultivate, exchange value for value in order to survive.  It is what makes us human beings.  To take this away from us either by robbing us to provide for the welfare of others or by providing for us at the expense of others destroys who we are.  It violates our very nature.  It destroys our self-worth.

The person who does not have to lift a finger in order to live can value nothing.   With nothing to value there can be nothing to motivate us into action.  We become immune to the stimuli around us.  The lines between good and evil become blurred and indistinct.  Out actions, if we take any, become random and haphazard.  We lash out indiscriminately at anybody and anything for no good reason.  Or, conversely we turn inward and wallow in a depressing stupor.  We turn to drugs to stimulate our starving minds.  We turn to suicide to end the meaningless existence.

Only by having needs, and desires do we determine our values and only by having values do we set goals for ourselves and only by having goals do we have the motivation to create and produce and do what is necessary to try and reach our goals and attain that which we value.

The welfare state is robbing us at every turn not only of the fruits of our productive effort but at the motivation to even try to achieve anything.  The results of 70 years of creeping welfare-statism has turned us from productive humans into mindless, valueless, animals who either work for the benefit of others or lay about and reap the rewards of the efforts of others.

In Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged she talked about the moral necessity of productive work in Galt’s Speech:

Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live – that productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values – that all work is creative work if done by  a thinking mind, and no work is creative if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others – that your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing more is possible to you and nothing less is human – that to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear- corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay – that your work is the  process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambition for values is to lose your ambition to live – that your body is a machine but your mind is its driver, and you must drive as far as your mind will take you, with achievement as the goal of your road –  that the man who has no purpose is a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any boulder to crash in the first chance ditch, that the man who stifles his mind is a stalled machine slowly going to rust, that the man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap, and the man who makes another man his goal is a hitchhiker no driver should ever pick up – that your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you, that any value you might find outside your work, any other loyalty or love can be only travelers you choose to share your journey and must be travelers going on their own power in the same direction.

The cult of the altruist has permeated all walks of life and all social strata.  When Bill Gates feels the need to give away his billions (which is his right of course) out of some misplaced sense of guilt many successful people feel, and when Obamas’ stooge, Warren Buffet calls for greater tax rates on the rich, a strictly evil suggestion, then we know that even men of great productive capacity are not immune to Kant’s philosophy of selflessness and despair.

The cure for this philosophy and subsequently for the violence we have seen in England this month and likewise riots throughout the world is to arm ourselves with a philosophy which rejects mysticism and the evil notion that we are our brother’s keeper, which extols the virtues of man as a rational being, which champions the individual over the group and which establishes a moral code for living peacefully and productively.  This philosophy is called Objectivism.

Originally aired on Just Right #213, August 18, 2011.